PINCKNEY — After two easy wins over winless teams from South Lyon, the Pinckney football team was tested on Friday night.
Results: A mixed report card.
The score and the numbers didn’t lie: Livonia Franklin won 31-7 and thoroughly dominated the stat sheet.
But Pinckney (2-1) was in contention at the end of the third quarter, trailing 10-7, before the wheels fell off.
“At the end, we got a little fatigued, a little feeling sorry for ourselves, and we’ll fix that,” Pinckney coach Jakob Gailitis said.
His players were more to the point.
“It came down to the last five minutes, and they motored up and we didn’t,” tight end Wes Smith said. “Bottom line, they had a great motor. (Franklin) has a great team. We fought with them. I think if we’d stayed with our motor (in the last five minutes) I think the result would have been different.”
“We’ve got to toughen up a little bit,” tackle Adam Sieler said. “We have to try harder. Half the kids were busting their asses, and the other half were giving up.”
The Pirates never got untracked on offense. They had one drive of more than seven plays, went three-and-out four times and turned the ball over on downs twice.
That was because the Patriots shut down the Pinckney rushing attack (of their 96 yards rushing, 25 came on a run by Jack Wurzer late in the game). Once they stuffed the run, the Patriots clamped down on Pinckney’s passing attack, blanketing receivers and forcing Wurzer into hurried throws while being chased throughout the evening.
“We struggled,” Smith said. “Some things would hit, and then we would run them again and they wouldn’t work. We struggled to find our niche.”
Franklin scored on its first two possessions, a field goal and the first of three touchdowns by Nyassinu “Nuke” Crowell, who finished with 251 yards rushing on 18 carries.
Franklin coach Chris Kelbert said before the game his team would try to control the clock, and the Patriots were as good as his word.
“They slowed the whole game down and sat in the huddle for a long time,” Gailitis said. “There were times it was close to a delay of game (penalty), and it’s something they obviously practice.”
But the Patriots couldn’t hold onto the ball in the second quarter, as the Pirates defense stiffened. Franklin had the ball three times, all ending in three-and-outs.
The Pirates, though, had the ball four times and got just one first down for their efforts.
But they came out a rejuvenated team after the half.
A 46-yard kickoff return by Dolyn Meinecke put the Pirates at the Franklin 44 to start the second half, and three plays later. Wurzer found Meinecke for a 38-yard scoring pass to get the Pirates to within a field goal, 10-7.
It looked like the Pirates were going to get the ball back right away after the ensuing kickoff.
Franklin had the ball fourth-and-2 at the 28 and lined up to punt. But the snap got over the head of punter Jake Giacobbi, who flagged it down and ran 5 yards for a first down.
Gailitis said it was a turning point.
“If we get that punt return when it’s 10-7, it’s a totally different game,” he said. “It’s going to be a close game. That play broke our back. It’s not the only play in the game, but it’s one of those plays that could have gone either way.”
Given new life, the Patriots offense ground the ball down the field in an 18-play drive that was ultimately stalled by penalties. But it ate up eight minutes of the clock.
“The kid ran and made a play,” Gailitis said of Giacobbi. “You can’t fault him for that. The 18-play drive wears you out. We challenged our kids to make them go 20 plays, three yards at a time, and they did.”
Crowell then put the game out of reach in the fourth quarter, scoring from 59 yards early, 4 yards in the middle, and a highlight-reel-type 69-yarder late, which saw him break several tackles as he tiptoed down the sideline.
Gailitis had an impassioned talk with his team on the sideline afterward, and was just as passionate in a postgame interview. He acknowledged mistakes but was just as quick to praise his team.
“I can’t be mad at them,” he said. “They fight every play and they hold their heads up high. This is a good football team. We’re not going to shy away.”
Smith, meanwhile, said Friday’s game gave his teammates an idea of what to expect next week, when the Pirates travel to Brighton.
“This was a great team,” he said, referring to Franklin. “Brighton’s a great team, and we have that experience against great teams. We’re going to go to practice at 100 miles per hour. We’re going to give Brighton all we’ve got.”